I’ve been reflective these past two weeks on the massive response to the brutal killing of George Floyd. As a boomer, it feels as if we are re-living the same civil rights struggles from the 1960’s. Has so little progressed in the last fifty years in the march forward towards equality and justice for all? I’ve been reading, watching films, signing petitions, making calls and contributions to support those who fight for equal justice for our African-American brothers and sisters. I find myself alternatively hopeful about how much has been accomplished in fifteen days, and how primitive our responses appear to be.
What is it about us that we keep having to be reminded of how to treat everyone in our world as a human being?
Looking to South Africa, a country whose human rights struggle for equality set the world on fire, consider this quote by Desmond Tutu:
“You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality-Ubuntu-you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently just as individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole world.”
According to Wikipedia, “Ubuntu can best be described as an African philosophy that places emphasis on ‘being self through others’. It is a form of humanism which can be expressed in the phrases ‘I am because of who we all are.”
What we are experiencing now is a convergence of profound, global events that truly demonstrate the relevance of Ubuntu to us all. Although the philosophy originated in South Africa, a country whose relationship with systemic racism is legendary, there is much we can learn from the South African struggle for equality. It all has implications for leadership—of ourselves individually and collectively.
What if our police forces operated from this philosophy? What if they chose to de-escalate situations of conflict that are potentially explosive, and instead employed more evolved tools of conflict resolution?
What would happen if leaders embraced Ubuntu? How would they be able to explore conflict and the resulting systemic dysfunction that can arise when people want to be right, or exert their authority in order to appear “strong” or “in charge?”
I invite every one of us to spend eight minutes and forty-six seconds, (the time the officer had his neck on George Floyd’s knee that resulted in death) to reflect.
- If I was able to be my best self through others, what would I change?
- What would I start doing that I haven’t done before?
- What would I stop doing that isn’t working?
- What am I learning that matters as a leader of my team?
- How will I share it with others?
I invite you to share your comments here. This moment invites us all look inside to create Ubuntu now.